Sheila René: This album (referring to the "Ride" CD) really takes me back to an exciting time in our musical history -- good songs and good harmonies.

John Hall: Thank you so much.
 

SR: I have to ask you about the car on the cover. The plates say "STL-TH-1," after your biggest selling song, "Still The One." Is it your car?
 
JH: No, unfortunately it's not. I should make something up about that. I should say it's our tour bus or something. Actually, it's just a computer-altered picture of a car that our art designer found on the street in Connecticut.


SR: Did I just read that the song has passed the six million mark in airplays?

JR: No, that was a typo or someone misquoted me. All of our songs together are at the six million figure. "Still The One" is about three million spins.


SR: And you're still getting calls for permission to use the song at the rate of one a week. How could you have ever known?

JR: Yes, at least one call a week for use commercially. We couldn't have known; in fact, it was unclear to us at the time whether that should have been the first single off the "Waking And Dreaming" album. We had several songs that were candidates. We were too close to it to see. Fortunately, our producer, Chuck Plotkin, had a strong feeling about the song.


SR: Wendy's Hamburgers uses it extensively today in their commercials.

JH: No, it's Burger King. Interestingly enough, Burger King and Nutra System are both using it at the same time. It's the ying and yang thing. Gain some weight over here and lose it over here.


SR: I've always been curious about such a hit. Does it really make money for you many years on?

JH: It does. Johanna, my wife and lyricist, and I will be probably be putting our daughter through college just on two songs alone. As far as Orleans is concerned as a band, it makes us some royalties and certainly it has kept us visible over the years. There wouldn't be a "Ride" CD if there hadn't been a "Still The One" and "Dance With Me."


SR: I would say, "Congratulations, you're back," but you never left.

JH: No, we've been working in all kinds of different areas. When we weren't together as Orleans we were doing solo projects and working on other musicians' records, plus writing songs for other performers.


SR: I know. It's just a great biography here. I just picked up the Harmony Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock. I see a John Hall with a full head of hair (now shorn off) with the comment "This is a band to watch."

JH: And probably a beard.


SR: No beard at that point. What other songs besides "Analog Man" did you add from the Japanese-only release album of the same title?

JH: The songs that were on the Japanese CD were "Analog Man," "Love 's Not Just For Other People" and "Heaven," which we re-recorded completely in a different key. Then there's one song on this record that was on a John Hall solo project in Japan a couple of years ago called "Plastic Money." We redid the vocals with Orleans harmonies and an acoustic guitar.


SR: "If We Never Meet Again" is a tune you worked on with Jules Shear, one of the great songwriters of our time.

JH: That's the first outside song we've done in a long time. We write so many songs ourselves that we usually just do our own. That's a tune that I fell in love with off an acoustic demo that Jules had done. I heard him do it live a couple of times in a very slow, melodramatic fashion. I thought that we should pick up the tempo and use our three-part harmony. It worked well. He's a terrific songwriter and a great guy and a good friend, too. He lives here in the Woodstock area so we get to see him around town.


SR: Is there still a pretty hot scene going on up there?

JH: Yes, between the studios, the clubs and all the writers and players who live here, it's pretty vibrant. Bearsville Studios gets a lot of work. Someone just told me that Ray Davies of the Kinks and Keith Richards were here. You never know. You can be in a club or in a supermarket and someone will walk in that has a very recognizable face. People tend to stay to themselves for the most part when they're rehearsing or recording. Robbie Dupree is here...he's still making records and helped us put together our Japanese deals, which got the band going again in the nineties. Levon Helm and other members of The Band live here...Jules Shear, Graham Parker and others. There's a goodly number of up and coming bands who also reside and record here.


SR: When you guys did the last concert as Orleans did you already know you were leaving for a solo career?

JH: The last one was probably in New Hampshire and it was the summer of '78. I knew and the band knew it, but we were all young and foolish enough not to know what it meant. When a band hits the big time at a young age, they tend to think that these kinds of things happen easily. It takes an extraordinary amount of hard work, talent and luck to make it happen. Orleans managed to have another couple of hit records after I left. I had an AOR hit with "Crazy" on the John Hall Band record and a couple of videos on MTV. I got involved in founding Musicians For Safe Energy (MUSE) in '79 and co-produced the No Nukes benefit album for Warner Bros. Neither John Hall as a solo artist nor Orleans ever really fulfilled the promise that I think we were all supposed to have on our own. We had to get back together again.Larry and Lance put the band to rest about 1983, and in "84, Wells Kelly, our drummer, died of an overdose while on the road with Meatloaf. It was a sad and traumatic event even though we weren't working together at the time. It was his memorial service that brought us back to the table writing as a band again. It's like riding a bike, you never forget the togetherness and you can come back to it as if you never left. Just about that time, MCA's A&R guy, Tony Brown, approached us about making a country record with him featuring guest appearances from Bela Fleck, Chet Atkins and Ricky Skaggs. Ex-Toto bassist David Hungate co-produced with Brown. It was lots of fun, but unfortunately the record was a little pop for country and a little too country for pop. It fell through the cracks.


SR: What happened after that?

JH: We did a few gigs, but mostly did other things until 1990, when Robbie Dupree asked us to record a live album at the Bearsville Theater for Japanese release. We toured Japan in '91 in support of that record and discovered that we had a real following there. It was as Lance said -- it was their state and excitement about us that got us exited about ourselves again. Then off to Woodstock in '94, and The Can't Stop Rockin' tour with REO Speedwagon, Fleetwood Mac and Pat Benatar in '95. The tour with those bands was great. It was really fun. We not only got to do our set but we got to sit in on a couple of Benatar tunes and sing "We Belong" with her, which was one of my favorite songs of hers all along, along with a new song of hers. We also got to sing on REO's "Roll With The Changes."


SR: Those guys play San Antonio this weekend with Peter Frampton and Foreigner. Can you believe that rock and roll is still vibrant with guys who are supposed to be too old to rock?

JH: That's a good show. Yeah, and everything on down from that. The way I look at it is that there's music from every era that survives. There's good and bad disco and good and bad punk and good and bad rockabilly. People will come back to it and I hope we're in there with those fans.


SR: Was producing Bonnie Raitt's third album, "Takin' My Time," a lot of fun for you? I'm so excited that she's finally getting her due rewards.

JH: Yeah, Bonnie is a very fun, and funny person. I would imagine that you've interviewed her at some point.


SR: No, but I sure would like to some day.

JH: Well, Bonnie is someone who's earned all the success that she has. She has a self-deprecating humorous view of the whole thing. She also has her heart in the right place in terms of the debt that she owes to the blues musicians who came before her and created the style that she's refined and made her own. I've done a lot of shows as a guitarist on the road with her and I've written songs for her and I also worked on the No Nukes project with her as a co-producer with Graham Nash and Jackson Browne. We've done some great stuff together, and we always had a good time doing it. When Bonnie started winning Grammies we were jumping up and down in our living room cheering for her. She had it coming as one of the hardest working and most talented people out there who toured too long as a cult artist.


SR: You guys are living what you preach with the No Nukes project, and now by serving on the Board of Education in your district. Larry formed and is devoted to the Sunshine For HIV Kids project.

JH: You know it's very important. If we don't provide our children with a good education and enough stimulation to keep them interested in the right things, then they'll do the wrong things. I think it's a doubly difficult balancing act, since we have to do it without breaking the bank. Up here in New York state, there's always the dichotomy where people want the kids to get high marks on the tests, not hang out on the street, and yet are perfectly happy to complain about kids. They don't want to spend the money since it might raise their property taxes. We just need to find a middle ground where we can do something affordable and very effective.


SR: Remember President Clinton used that Fleetwood Mac song in his last campaign? I think you should submit "Yestertime" for this year. That song says it all.

JH: That's a good idea. That's a song that Larry wrote. He was struck by a two-year-old saying "yestertime" when he meant "yesterday." We all have our stories about when we were young. Maybe they're idealized stories and weren't real, or maybe exaggerated, but the world has really become a more difficult and more threatening place in a lot of ways. People sometimes seem like they don't respond with the same decency and straightforwardness as they used to. My wife and I were taking our daughter to a tennis camp in Williamstown, Mass., the other day, and we had a flat tire. Out of nowhere, in the space of about ten minutes, five or six different people materialized with tools and muscle power.


SR: It could have just as easily gone the other way.

JH: That's true, but it's nice to see that there are a lot of good people around. My experience with local politics and the school system here has reinforced that there are a lot of people who are just as genuine and good at heart as ever.


SR: "Plastic Money" sure hits home with all of us.

JH: The only song I wrote entirely by myself. I was riding a plane from Nashville a couple of years ago and I saw the New York Times business section. On the left side of the page there was a story about the stock market hitting an all-time high, and on the right side was a story about more people on public assistance than every before in our history. Then at the bottom there was a story about the Russians asking us to borrow millions of dollars as they tried to reconstruct their economy. On the inside there was a story about how we've become the biggest debtor nation in the world with a four trillion dollar national debt. The whole thing was comical -- and it's paradoxical and frightening at the same time. If you don't look at the comical side of it, you're not going to have any fun. I wrote the song with a funk groove that Orleans used to do a lot, especially in the early days of the band.


SR: Who's out there on the music scene today who you think has a chance of making it?

JH: I love Sting's new record and the Subdudes album is great. I'm a big fan of Shawn Colvin's music, and continue to be a fan of Jackson Browne's and Bonnie Raitt's music. Jonell Mosser, who worked with us on this latest album by co-writing "I'm On Your Side" and "One Tribe," has a record out herself now called "Around Townes," which is a collection of Townes Van Zant songs. She's getting ready to release an album of her own material -- a lot of songs which Johanna and I wrote with her. She's from Kentucky, and a hot item in Nashville these days. I'm doing a show in Long Island with her since I'm not scheduled for anything with Orleans. She's somebody that bears watching.


SR: The song "Analog Man" is very cool.

JH: It really is back. The two have to coexist. All artists today, no matter how retro they are, in order to get on a CD have to be transferred to a digital signal. A series of zeros and ones. From that sense, there is no purist among us unless they are only on cassette or vinyl. In terms of the analog world in a non-musical way, for every person who sits with their computer and surfs the Internet, there's probably ten people who can't afford a computer or who like being out in the great outdoors talking face to face. It's important to keep it in perspective. We're a family with four computers and we're on line. We edit digital audio when we put our records together using SoundTools on a Macintosh with a big hard drive. We don't eschew the use of computers, but at the same time, if you spend all your time in front of one you might forget to live. It's such a new technology that people are still trying to figure out how to integrate it into their lives. The same thing happened with television. I know when I first got cable we had gone for a long time with pretty bad reception. I sat with the clicker in my hand and watched a lot of bad shows I didn't really care about just because of the novelty of it. I can control myself today and only watch what I really want to see.


SR: There are two movies supposedly being planned on Janis Joplin's life. Wouldn't it be too cool if they ask you for use of the song "Half Moon," which you wrote for her?

JH: (John asks his wife Johanna if they've been called.) We got a call from Myron Freeman, who called us about using that song, so we'll see. One movie wants to use Melissa Etheridge and the other, which is sanctioned by Janis' sister, Laura, is keen on using Stephen Tyler's daughter Liv Tyler. I think Etheridge is perfect, since she brought me to tears with her tribute to Janis at a Bridge benefit show. She's really good. Other people have had that same reaction to Jonell. Not so much by her doing Joplin tunes, although she gets requests for them because her energy and mannerisms are reminiscent of Janis. It's been interesting to watch Jonell gain such a riveting onstage personality. I think it's easier for women today to be stars of that magnitude.


SR: Thank goodness. It's been too long coming.

JH: Not when Janis was with us. It's not just that the women are in the high numbers on the charts. That's true, but what I'm alluding to is that women today can be wealthy, successful, and creatively and artistically in charge. They can also be in charge of the business world they're in and it's not looked down on. Back when Janis was alive it was relatively unheard of for a woman to run her own career in the music business. This is my analysis of part of what was going on with her and probably with other women at that time and in earlier times. Once you achieve a level of fame, success and the money that comes with it, it's impossible to have a conversation, let alone a relationship with anybody without having it be colored by that success. Today it's much more common for women to relate to men on an equal or even superior footing.


SR: Madonna is a prime example of that. No one is really doing what she does. She brought us Alanis Morissette and is a good business woman.

JH: She's a shrewd A&R person and image monger and she's big business.


SR: Tell me some good news about a tour that's happening.

JH: Actually we're entertaining some different possibilities for that, and in the meantime we're doing some one-off concerts in Long Island, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, the New York State Fair and Labor Day weekend in Saugerties, which is next to Woodstock. Next we play Virginia Beach and so on. At this point it's a fun mixture of little clubs one day and big shows the next day. Never a dull moment. As time goes on we may find ourselves on a tour that plays big shows all the time, but right now I'm enjoying the variety. There's nothing like playing a small room musically.


SR: Radio has changed in your favor, don't you think? With A/C, Americana and A3 formats breaking a lot of bands.

JH: I think so. Radio is always changing. I'm still nostalgic for the days when you could hear Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash on the same station with Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, the Ventures, the Beach Boys and the Beatles. There were no formats, no little holes people got stuck in. Maybe this is too much wishful thinking on my part, but I'm always encouraged when a new trend like A3 comes along and people start thinking it's okay to mix up different genres of music.


SR: And it's okay to be over 20 or 30 or 50 and still be writing and rocking.

JH: I have to tell you something I heard on the radio yesterday. It was a triple A station in Sharon, Connecticut. The DJ said, "And coming up after the news, we'll have you know what." That's the beauty of it. How great! Most stations give you a long list of artists you'll be hearing next, such as Whitney Houston, Michael Bolton and blah blah blah. It's just so predictable.


SR: It's been so great talking to you. Thanks for taking the time to call me. My best to you, the band and of course Johanna.

JH: I appreciate your interest. I'm sure Chip will keep you posted on anything you need to be talking about. We'll have a Web site up soon -- http://www.stilltheone.com, so stay in touch.


—Interview conducted by Austin-based Sheila René